Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chamorro Language

I received this comment my blog several months ago on my post "State of the Chamorro Language." The author of the comment "One Hot Chamaole" apparently didn't like my post or my blog and left a rather annoying and useless comment, which she soon removed. I had the chance to read it before she removed however and thought that I would post it here in order to discuss some of the more "undiscussed" issues that the Chamorro language is up against.

Her comment as you'll read below was not friendly and not very intelligent either. But, this is something you often find with people who claim to be preserving the Chamorro language, a very clear lack of knowledge about what the language is, how it is being killed, and how it can survive. The usual list of things which are endangering Chamorro language are tv, internet, movies, music, kids who don't want to learn, laziness. All of these things have their roles, however it is incredibly pointless and actually counterproductive to pretend that these are the reasons the Chamorro language is not being passed on or spoken today. As I've written so many times before, but unfortunately my statements tend to fall almost completely on deaf ears, languages are passed on, from one generation to the next. The idea that you can blame the younger generation for not picking up their language is insane, it takes at least two generations to lose a language, and so the ideas and the perceptions of those who speak the language, but don't teach it or don't allow it to evolve and survive, are just as important as the perceived laziness of young people today.

For those of you who don't know her, One Hot Chamaole runs a very informative blog called "Chamorro Language and Culture" where she posts lists of Chamorro words, phrase and other information. Despite this service that she is providing to Chamorros and others around the world, I think its still important to address and bring out here how the perceptions one has about how to protect or preserve a language, and about how a language is lost can play a huge role in deciding whether or not the language will be saved through your efforts, or if you are merely preparing it for a museum. To put this in another way, we can write down all the lists of words for fruits and foods that one wants, but revitalizing and keeping a language strong, requires not just the words themselves, but also a fluid and open mindset which will support the language and help it thrive, and not encase it or trap it, thus ensuring its death.

Here at last is her comment, and you can find my notes and responses below:

I think getting rid of one's language and customs was more common in Guam than all of the other Mariana islands. You don't see this type of desperation on any other island but Guam. Spanish last names came from hundreds of years of colonization, not an overnight American fad. Besides, how is having a Spanish last name more American than Chamorro? [1] In addition to such desperation, you see the new little cirlce above vowels that you didn't see before in older Chamorro documents. And prior the Spain's arrival, Chamorro was NOT a written language. [2] So where does the å really come from aside from a pretentious attempt at regaining culture and even worse, making things up? [3] If you are really "awake", drop the facade. It is unthinkable that you can blame WWII for Guamanian complacency, for the lives that were lost, you should be ASHAMED of yourself. [4] Go to Saipan, and you'll still see even KIDS speak Chamorro. [5]

1. I don’t understand at all, what this is supposed to mean, “Spanish last names came from hundreds of years of colonization, not an overnight American fad. Besides, how is having a Spanish last name more American than Chamorro?” I really wish that people thought more carefully about their comments before submitting them, especially if they put so much emotions or energy into them. It comes off as looking incredibly dumb when they don't.

2. One of the main reasons that the language is being lost is because foolish people such as yourself who feel that Chamorro should be only a “spoken” language and not written one, and any attempt to write it is like a bastardization or “pretentious” act of “making things up.” Yes, Chamorro was not a written language, but that was hundreds of years ago. Today, if Chamorro is to survive it must be written! Those kids who you say are speaking Chamorro in Saipan, are most likely also reading books and on the internet, and the reason that the language is dying in all of the Marianas Islands is because there is an incredible lack of media in terms of magazine, newspapers, books and internet websites, which feature the Chamorro language! If we adhere to that stupid idea that the Chamorro language is meant to be verbal, and then not write it down and print it in as many ways and forms as we can, then the language will die. We will have protected whatever moronic purity people were defending, but we will have killed it.

3. Your whining about the little circle over the “a” is one of the dumbest things I have heard in a long time. First of all, that little “a” isn’t for show, it serves a purpose in making clear how the word is to be pronounced. The circle doesn’t mean nothing, but exists to linguistically differentiate sounds. If you are fluent in Chamorro, then you know the importance of being able to distinguish between the two “a” sounds. Since vowel pronunciation in Chamorro changes based on vowel harmony and the usage of possessive pronouns, that “pretentious” circle, can help a lot of people read how a word is supposed to be pronounced, whether with an “ae” sound or an “ah” sound. If we are interested in bringing the language back, then that means making it accessible for those who do not speak it! So for people who are just learning the language, this little circle will save them from a lot of ridicule, because they will know the difference in pronouncing words, even if they haven’t said or heard them before!

4. If you don’t think that World War II had anything to do with the changes in language, culture, landscape and lifestyle on Guam and in the CNMI, then you really need to take a closer look at the world around you, and the history of our islands. If you are interested in actually learning or knowing more, and not simply just mouthing off about a wide variety of topics that you actually know very little about, then I can direct you to different resources.

5. The language is being lost on all of the Marianas Islands. Obviously the language abilities and fluency levels in the CNMI are better, but they are also dropping, drastically according to many teachers and educators. The fact that “even KIDS speak Chamorro” on Saipan, doesn’t mean that the language isn’t being lost, I can name six kids on Guam that can speak Chamorro, but that doesn't mean very much in terms of the language as a whole. To make my points even further, look at the way kids from the CNMI are heading out into the world wide web? They are doing so in English, usually with a tiny bit of Chamorro mixed in, but definitely not as fluent Chamorro speakers. One of the reasons is simply because there aren't any websites out there for kids in Chamorro.


One Hot Chamaole! said...

It's your buddy! One Hot Chamaole :P

I will admit I was being a bitch when I first wrote, which is basically why I had rescinded. So please excuse the original statement and allow me to clarify now that I know for sure, it has hurt your feelings. I’ll go back according to the December 11, 2007 “Chamorro Language” Article to make sure we do touch base on everything.

First of all, in reference to the Chamorro language drastically dropping and after living in Guam and going back and forth to Saipan to visit closer relatives, there was a huge distinction. Back when I was in middle school and high school, I didn’t know anyone who spoke Chamorro aside from a few sentences.

1. Spanish last names are a interesting topic in my view and something that should be taken into account since we’re talking about history. According to Farrell’s History of the Northern Marianas, the Chamorros as a race was destroyed in the 1700’s, which wasn’t a difficult task being a small island chain and having imperial Spain as the aggressor. There are no “pure” Chamorros left no matter how much we want to believe it. And funny enough, one of the few people out of the dwindling population of Chamorro speakers that actually speaks Chamorro happens to be yours truly, a Chamaole :O In your mini-side spiel (underneath the I Power Blogger logo) you write about this crisis of identity and renaissance all wrapped up into one including an allusion to “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (which cited pretty big inaccuracies of Pacific history) which sounds nice, but misses the point completely! All I hear, primarily if not entirely from Guamanian-based culture-gurus, is how culture is being lost and it is followed with more and more of the same complaints. Well,… here lies the problem, dear friend! Too much talk about action followed with further talk and inaction! I’ll give you an example: I was asked by a friend of mine who was curious about the Chamorro language to tell her some things in Chamorro, just to get a feel for what it actually sounded like. Not a problem. After a while, and this is really rare, she wanted to see if she could see some of the language on-line. Much to my embarrassment, there weren’t any sites that fit what she was looking for. If you look up mainstream European or Asian languages, you can find plenty of resources, and even Hawaiian (Thank God) is doing well in several online dictionaries, databases and personal sites teaching Hawaiian. But looking on or or anywhere else and you’ll find those same, as you quoted “…lists of words for fruits and foods” and that is it! I would’ve thought that since I moved from Guam in ’97 that someone would have taken more initiative (including UOG’s list which is the best I could find at the time), but such was not the case. We can blame the Spanish or even now the United States for limiting us, but we’re in a different age now. There ARE Chamorro books and audio CD’s to at LEAST start someone off who doesn’t speak it well. But I have to be honest, the way Chamorro is spoken on Guam is laughable to the rest of the Marianas. I’m not saying that to be an asshole, I’m saying it because I hear it from the mouths of family, friends, and older Guamanian relatives who are ashamed of where Guam is heading. You’re right, language certainly has to be passed down, but that has NOTHING to do with the US or Spain anymore. It is pure laziness. There is no euphemism pretty enough to cover up the fact that many younger Chamorros are indifferent, and that is an ugly truth.

2. As far as pretentiousness in spoken Chamorro or the limited spoken Chamorro on Guam, there are words that only Guamanians use and it has the rest of the Marianas laughing considerably. Once again, I’m not saying this to be hurtful, but it’s true. People from Rota may speak Chamorro like Argentinians speak Spanish in that sing-song manner we all know, but Guam is known for trying too hard. Example: I was corrected for using “kareta” for car. Now we can all bitch and moan that in Spanish it means cart and is anachronistic blah blah blah blah blah. But it is STILL used in the CNMI because that’s what we’ve been calling it all along and no one really gives a shit about changing it. But a Guamanian, who barely spoke Chamorro herself told me it was “tamobit” or perhaps that can be corrected to “attamobit” a Chamorro-ized version of the Spanish “automovil”. But Guam is, once again, the only folks who use it! I was also corrected for saying kulot chukulati for brown, and once again taotao Guahan, I get “No, fan, it’s kulot bra-brown” By this time I was in tears…with laughter.

3. The å is seriously pretentious. I am all for reverting back to the original spelling of Agaña to Hagat’ña since we know that was the original name. But putting a circle above the a is misleading and unoriginal. Everyone knows how to say Agaña and now Hagat’ña so why the å? When people see this published for the first time, their first instinct is to believe this is a natural part of the language. So you can say it’s dumb all you want, but the å doesn’t make a difference at all. If you’re trying to teach Chamorros how to say a word, a circle is not going to do a thing. I watched this one video, where the Chamorro was so bad and the “Ancient Chamorro Dance” was actually Hawaiian, and I couldn’t help but cringe. (If you think there is nothing wrong with their accent, we shouldn’t even be talking) It might be funny to people like me, but I have a heart, I promise. It’s sad to see Chamorros butcher their own language and speak it with a painfully Americanized accent. You speak as though the language were already gone or if those 6 kids on Guam were the last keepers of the word. But don’t blame TV, America, the internet, or God or whoever. The fault lies not within the media or another country anymore, but within ourselves.

4. WWII is also an excellent subject you brought up and sure, we were affected. But last I checked, everyone in my family kept the language alive when Japanese soldiers were hacking off heads in Marpi and were actually enforcing a Japanese only standard. As far as I can tell, my mother’s generation and my own are doing fine. What happened Guam? Who is to blame this time?

5. To go back to your ‘even further points’ “To make my points even further, look at the way kids from the CNMI are heading out into the world wide web? They are doing so in English, usually with a tiny bit of Chamorro mixed in, but definitely not as fluent Chamorro speakers. One of the reasons is simply because there aren't any websites out there for kids in Chamorro.” Well, here we are again, it’s our own damn fault. English is a standard as it is a global language and the CNMI is protected by the United States voluntarily as decided in the 1970s. Let’s face it, Chamorros are increasingly becoming more indifferent and lazy than every before. The reason why Chamorro is falling in Saipan is due to the fact that everyone is leaving! You really believe someone is taking a serious census of this? Unemployment and layoffs are a looming specter over locals and as long as there are sweatshops and whorehouses run by Asian organized crime and the government officials who ARE Chamorro keep taking bribes and looking the other way, nothing can be done immediately. In short, (too late for that) Guam has more of a language problem and the CNMI has an immigration problem. You may also gripe about your so-called “strategical milityranical domainination” but Guam would be in ruins if the US left. Thus, is the fate of former colonies. You simply cannot convince me of otherwise. Shall we refer back to WWII? Small nations work through whatever means possible and the Marianas has no defense from whomever could come in and dictate as evident in the past 500 years since European arrival. Deal with it. Even if the US did leave, do you actually believe there are enough progressive Chamorros out there who give a damn enough to make a difference through action and not just words? If so, I would like to know what fantasy world you’re living in so I could go there too. It sounds lovely. I also have a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge to sell if you’re interested.

Anyways, enough of that. Want to continue this little dialogue in Chamorro for educational purposes or are we still mad at each other? (big sad face) I put up my little blog as a start, because I think other sites could have done better and didn’t. As a Chamorro, it's my responsibility to do my part and hopefully it will catch on. I hate whining :) I would be proud to see someone do it much better than I have, but that has yet to be seen. As someone who works, specializes in languages and getting a degree, blogs are a lot of work. But to keep the Chamorro language alive, I won’t just sit here and complain and moan about colonization and make flippant or emotional remarks of a dying culture, I’m actually doing something to save it to the best of my ability in addition to teaching my future kids. Also, regarding my intelligence, I don’t think I need to explain myself. Take a look at the blogs on my profile and continue to tell me how stupid I am... Bitch would be preferable, but dumb? Really? You can do better than that ;)

Michael said...

i was just thinking, that well i have been trying to learn chamorro for a while, and it is hard, i know more than an average kid would know but still the fact is i cant really learn from the chamorro language books because of the complex and uninteresting way that they present the information(no offense to whoever made the book) but i feel that the current language textbooks arent geared towards younger audiences and therefore it could be a good idea for someone to design a chamorro language curriculum aimed at kids because that is truly who we want learning chamorro right, i am not sure if there already exists a textbook like this but i was thinking that the people on this blog could think of some way or even team up to create such a curriculum and it could make it easier to educate kids in chamorro.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua said...

To One Hot Chamaole!: Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. Responding to long, ranting, confused comments isn't a high priority, and I also didn't see much point in it. You are someone who has alot of information and ideas at your disposal, but has a poor understanding of them and don't use either of them very well. I hope you find a way to enlighten yourself, because until you do, I'm afraid the label of "dumb" that I used is still very valid. If you'd like to have a less contentious discussion by all means contact me, if not, then please don't bother.

Lahen Guahan said...

Learning Chamoru Is Something All Must Learn Even Though It Is Hard I Myself Do Speak Chamoru And I Also Understand It The Southern Villagers Of Guam Still Are Speaking There Native Languages But Since Weve Adapted To Some Of The Spanish During The Spanish Era It Is Most Difficult Since Were So Used To The Spanish And Chamoru In All Learning The Old Chamoru Language Should Be Nice Instead Of Carrying Both The Chamoru And Spanish Language In One...


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